Why Are There Errors in the White House Logo, and How Did They Get There?

A conspiracy theory from a design agency that worked on it

Headshot of Tim Nudd

The White House doesn't publicize changes to its brand identity. But something fishy has been going on with its logo over the past decade, according to a design agency that worked on refresh ideas for the famous mark several years ago.

The story starts in 2009, when New York-based digital design agency Hello Monday was invited to submit ideas for a redesign of the White House logo. Naturally, the agency, which had only recently opened its doors, was thrilled. It quickly dove into the history of the logo—and of the iconic north face of the White House more broadly, which the logo depicts.

You probably recognize the north face mostly from the back of the $20 bill (which used to show the south face, until the bill was redesigned in 1998):

Ronald Reagan was the first president to use the north face as an emblem; a famous version of it remains a fixture on the rear wall of the White House press room, as you can see in this photo (credit: C.W Fitzpatrick, U.S. Department of Defense).

The north face has also become the White House's de facto illustrated logo, both on the whitehouse.gov website and on printed reports it issues.

But when Hello Monday got to work on the brand, and looked at the logo as it appeared in 2009, it noticed something funny: One of the arches on the physical building had mysteriously become a pyramid in the logo, as you can see below. 

—2009 White House logo (click to enlarge):

"We were surprised to discover something had gone wrong—or maybe it was a secret Freemasons cypher—call Nicolas Cage!" the agency writes in a lengthy, amusing blog post. "We'll do our best not to go all 'illuminati' on you, but the real architectural element is an arch—now look at the logo again… Yes, it's a pyramid." 

The error seems to date back to at least 2003. However, there is another version of the logo where the arch is correct—but which has other inconsistencies in the alignment and number of back columns, according to Hello Monday.

How did the pyramid mistake happen? Since the White House doesn't publish anything about its logo, it's hard to know. "Everything is happening under the radar," agency president Andreas Anderskou tells AdFreak. 

Here's where it gets even stranger, though.

During its 2009 presentation, Hello Monday presented two versions of a logo refresh. You can check them out below. In the first, the pyramid has been corrected to an arch. The other version is simpler, to read better at small sizes, and doesn't include arches or pyramids. 

—Hello Monday 2009 proposed logo, detailed version (click to enlarge):

—Hello Monday 2009 proposed logo, simpler version (click to enlarge):

"We decided to clean it up and create two versions: a more streamlined version that kept the important details minus the triangle over the window, and a simplified version for digital use. We also optimized the kerning and tracking of the logotype," the agency says.

In the end, the White House decided not to move forward with the project, and so the proposed logos went unused. "Obviously we were very bummed. And also a bit surprised to see that they kept the erroneous logo up for the next seven years," the agency says.

But then this happened. 

Sometime in the past year or two (it's hard to know exactly when), a new version of the logo was quietly put into circulation. Check it out below, and see it on the website here.

—2016 White House logo (click to enlarge):

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.